Thanksgivings skate by with one family’s tradition

Lolly Lehtinen’s extended family is too big to fit around one Thanksgiving table. No problem.

This clan has an ingenious solution.

While other families take long walks or watch football before sitting down to turkey and trimmings, Lehtinen’s loved ones are — literally — on a roll.

This Thanksgiving will be their 38th year of gathering at a roller rink. Just like always, they’ll be at the Everett Skate Deck on Thursday afternoon.

Lehtinen, who is 70 and lives in Bothell, said the roller-skating tradition started when she and her siblings were young parents. She grew up in Everett, one of Nick and Margaret Peters’ six children.

In the 1970s, the Peters always hosted big Thanksgiving dinners in their north Everett home. At the time, Lehtinen said, there were 21 grandchildren under 10 years old on the guest list.

“There were so many kids, and no place to play,” Lehtinen recalled. All that pent-up energy had to go somewhere.

When her sister Mig Dwyer suggested finding a physical activity for the kids on Thanksgiving, Lehtinen said she replied, “We should rent a roller rink.” She meant it as a joke, but starting in 1973 that’s just what they did.

“We have had roller-skating from noon to 2 p.m. every year,” Lehtinen said.

The tradition started when Everett’s roller rink was in the downtown area, off Broadway on California Street. That building is now the Everett Soccer Arena.

“The same family still runs the Skate Deck. They said, ‘Sure, come on down.’ They’re a wonderful couple,” Lehtinen said.

It’s a private party just for the Peters’ children and all of their descendants and some family friends.

“It’s grandfathered in, and we enjoy having them,” said Teri Acklus. Her parents are Bobbie and Eric Englund, the original owners.

“They own the building, I own the business,” she said, adding that the Skate Deck moved to its present location near Silver Lake in 1976.

After three Thanksgivings at the old rink, the Peters family’s holiday skate party also made the move. The ever-growing group has been showing up at high noon every Thanksgiving for almost four decades.

“They’re a nice family. I don’t know that we would rent it out on Thanksgiving anymore,” except to Lehtinen’s family, Acklus said.

The Skate Deck has its own pre-Thanksgiving tradition. It’s open to the public for an all-night skate from 7:30 p.m. Wednesday until 7:30 a.m. Thanksgiving morning. The business is not open the rest of the holiday — except for this group.

Lehtinen estimates about 140 people came to last year’s party. “We get to see the new babies every year,” Lehtinen said. She and her husband have 21 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Lehtinen said her sister Mig Dwyer will be showing off a new great-grandchild this Thanksgiving.

Their parents are both deceased, and the Peters siblings have lost one brother, Ron. In an essay Lehtinen wrote about their skating tradition, she shared poignant recollections:

“Grandpa skated until he was 75, leaving his descendants with wonderful memories of the famous chicken dance. He whirled around, arms outstretched, making flapping motions while wiggling his ‘tail’ to the music as it got faster and faster.”

Every year, his successor is chosen and a plastic trophy awarded to the family’s “Grand Champion Bird-Dancer.”

One Thanksgiving, during the skaters’ version of “The Hokey Pokey,” the music stopped and one cousin dropped down on a knee, pulled out a velvet box, and proposed to his future wife.

When the skating Thanksgivings began, the family would go to the grandparents’ home for dinner together. Now, with so many families, they scatter for dinner at different homes.

The subject of whether it’s time to change the tradition has come up. “Sometimes we talk about maybe hanging it up. There would be mutiny in the ranks,” Lehtinen said.

Eventually, dinner is served. Lehtinen said she has a “bum hip.” She no longer races around the rink.

Even so, she said, “cooking is secondary to roller-skating.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460;

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